The state of development cooperation in Kenya

Development partners have made considerable progress in expanding and improving the quality of official development assistance (ODA) since the agreements on the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. This has been a culmination of a series of high level meetings and commitments that date back to 2003 in Rome, Italy, to 2011 in Busan, South Korea. The common narrative has been the urgent need to rework the development assistance architecture to involve as many stakeholders as possible in determining how best different streams of financing for development can address the socio-economic needs of emerging and developing economies across the globe.

Three years after endorsing the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation in Busan South Korea, different countries and stakeholders have progressed at different rates. A study conducted in February 2014 by Development Initiatives’ Africa Hub to evaluate the extent to which the set of principles agreed on in Busan were working to enhance effective development cooperation in Kenya reveals that:

  1. Less aid but more partnership. Despite spending a relatively small proportion of external resources (an average of 5% of total government revenues) the Government of Kenya continued to foster good, working relations with development partners. Perhaps due to the need to attract other resource flows such as foreign direct investment, loans, and other private flows that also depend on good foreign relations.
  2. Systems are in place but are weak. While the Government of Kenya has introduced country systems to ensure that resources are administered prudently, they remain weak and vulnerable to corruption. This continues to discourage effective partnerships for financing development in the country and creates uncertainty on external resource flows.
  3. Development partners maintain stringent processes. Stringent processes for negotiating project terms, approval and monitoring preferred by some development partners slow down implementation of projects and concessions that lead to low absorption of development finances.
  4. Engagement is more form than substance. Engagement with development partners from emerging economies, civil society and private sector on development cooperation increased. However, the depth of engagement has been unable to influence patterns of resource allocation on development programmes in the country.
  5. Progressively the space for civil society organisations (CSOs) is shrinking. While CSOs do not operate in a hostile environment in Kenya per se, compared to the neighbouring countries, there is an emerging trend of active alienation of CSOs and shrinking of democratic space that sets bad precedence for effective development cooperation.
  6. Devolution. Devolved governments are an opportunity for resources to flow to the lowest levels of service delivery, hence potential for better impacts. However, the devolution statute gives powers to sub-national entities to directly negotiate grants with development partners. This presents a challenge regarding coordination of development assistance, but more importantly the danger of donors ‘cherry-picking’ projects, geographical areas or even pet sectors to the disadvantage of national priorities.
  7. Challenges in assessing results. The country lacks an effective, simplified framework for tracking and measuring progress. Linking resource flows to actual change in the living standards of Kenyans remains a challenge. This makes it difficult to determine the extent to which development funds contributed both by tax payers in Kenya and external sources are changing the lives of Kenyans.
  8. Planning and priority setting is not inclusive. The planning framework does not fully reflect views of all stakeholders. In some respects, some of the things presented to development partners and that end up as government expenditure priorities have not been negotiated in a democratic process and thus do not reflect the aspirations of all Kenyans.
  9. Commercial interest versus social economic development. There is a marked shift by donors, especially new donors, to bilateralism, the main driver for this being commercial interest rather than the socio-economic development that traditional partners previously emphasised.
  10. Access to information. There is limited access to good quality information which makes it difficult to inform resource allocation, track expenditures effectively and measure progress appropriately. This is exacerbated by the absence of an access to information law to compel the custodians of public information to make it available.

The study concludes that substantial progress has been made by different stakeholders towards fostering effective partnerships for development cooperation in Kenya. Moving forward, to ensure every penny spent on development has the greatest possible impact, as echoed by Justine Greening, UK Secretary of State for International Development, the Government of Kenya must continue to work closely with development partners, civil society and the private sector to:

  1. review priority setting mechanisms to ensure that they are more inclusive,
  2. address weaknesses, inadequacies and loopholes within existing country systems (especially public finance management and procurement systems),
  3. agree modalities for reporting on resources channelled through CSOs and other non-state actors, and
  4. address capacity and resource gaps among non-state actors and local government that hamper cooperation.

View the case study here